Where You Been?

Away from the actual painting for quite a while it’s good to get back to it.  An old colleague (and staff member) of mine once mildly rebuked me for chuntering on about the time they were spending away from the teaching saying “to be a good artist you have to put in the hours” and he’s right of course.  Leaving aside all the high fallutin’ nonsense we all spout about making work that has something to say, it is just plain laborious some of, if not most of, the time.  Imagine then how much tougher an activity like painting must be if sight fails you?  More of that in a moment.

IMG_8355

But it’s also important to see work and to reflect on one’s practice away from it – and to recharge the batteries in congenial surroundings.  These come along in many forms.  So it was rather excellent that my absence from this blog has been occasioned by just such variety.  Firstly an old pal of mine came up from London to spend a few days with us.  We hightailed it straight from the rail station to Lakeside in Nottingham to take in the Ivon Hitchens show, beautifully curated by Anne Goodchild and mounted by Neil Walker.  Hitchens late works in particular a bit of a revelation – their wonderful colour singing out in what is our region’s best gallery. 

IMG_7716

Day two we were off to Birmingham to view the John Walker exhibition at the Ikon Gallery.  We studied together at Brum, not long after Walker had left the city, his work having left an indelible mark on the art scene there, so not only had we gone to view the show but also to take a trip down memory lane looking over at a studio we had rented on Broad Street, then a pigeon shit invested loft – now an upmarket Indian restaurant.  John is a proper painter’s painter and so any show he mounts starts from a high water mark – however this was a tad of a let down.  For starters it consisted of just the upper gallery spaces and John’s work needs space – lots of it.  Although most of the 8 x 6 ft.(ish) canvases sat comfortably enough the two real biggies (at least 8 by 12 feet if not more) were lacking room.  And for another matter these two biggest works seemed to be pushing for that easy elegance that the late paper cutouts of Matisse have.  Gone was the hard won push and pull of paint that characterise most Walker canvasses replaced by thinner washes and canvas collage, not to my eyes entirely successfully.  Overall the body of paintings riffed off a variety of Walker tropes (the truncated lozenges harking back to the early 1970’s), an over reliance on stripes and the grid and the suggested references to the Maine coastline hard to see? 

IMG_0969
Paintings by Sargy Mann at the Attenborough

Day three took us to the Attenborough in Leicester.  Although my colleague Stuart knew of him I’d only the sketchiest knowledge of Sargy Mann (gathered from a recollection of his involvement with a Bonnard show years back).  But the substantial exhibition that Attenborough had mounted was a tour de force.  Both as an example of how to celebrate a career (something the Ikon show signally failed to do for John Walker) and give the artist a proper outing but also for the quality of what was on show. as if that were not enough Sargy progressively lost his sight over his career so that the last canvasses were made – well from what? – not simply memory but knowledge and experience and a heightened awareness of other senses.  Sadly the show is now ended but you can get an idea of the late works from this Youtube video.  We topped off a great trip with a brief outing to the Tarpey Gallery where the latest crop of gallery artists showing included favourites such as Richard Perry, Jackie Berridge & the Richard’s Devereux & Thornton too.

Secondly news reached me of work ‘on the road’ again.  Opportunities to have works seen in public are thin on the ground nowadays so always welcome.  And so another outing for the estimable Andrew Bracey’s Enough Is Definitely Enough exhibition where a small and modest offering from me is part of the mix.  Andrew is boundless in his energy and he’s produced a rather nifty gif to accompany this outing that I’m happy to reproduce here.

OCEANS-APART-FLYER

HipstamaticPhoto-604142734.026639

Thirdly another very dear pal of mine issued an invitation to me and my wife to accompany him and his partner to their Civil Partnership signing, and to a very grand and indulgent ‘Partnership breakfast’ shall we call it that?  stretching over lunch, dinner and overnight stay at the wonderful Lympstone Manor.  Although very upmarket (Michelin Star) it was a wonderfully relaxed and inspiring location: a Georgian mansion overlooking a vineyard sloping down to the Exe estuary.  And although the art  was variable, quite a lot of it was very accomplished and some rather provoking for such a location.  We were very privileged to be able to share the occasion with our friends and it was an experience that will live long in the memory (and I dare say feed into the work in some way).

HipstamaticPhoto-604143025.949865
The view to the Exe – foreground sculpture by Louise Short

Next up out of the blue a few weeks back I received an email from a painter for whose work I have the highest regard.  Now resident in the Far East Laurence Wood wanted to send me a copy of his recent catalogue of paintings made over the past six or so years since his move to Hong Kong. 

Scan 1

I have a small painting of Laurence’s, an oil on board, made during his brief time in Leicester.  It was obvious to me then that here was a fine painter (and printmaker) in the making and though I haven’t had the opportunity to see his recent paintings in the flesh it seems that after all these years I wasn’t wrong.

Scan
Shadow puppets in my houseplants, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm., 2019  Laurence Wood

And finally I took the opportunity of a trip down to Swindon Museum (to present a talk on the work of the painter Charles Howard of which more in my next post) to visit Avebury, a site I last took a look around sometime in the 1970’s!  I got lucky for in the midst of this soggy winter I chose a day of bright sunshine to revisit this wonderful place.

IMG_3147

 

So by way of explanation for my lengthy absence that’s been what’s been happening.  I’m back at it now.  Nothing completed yet bar this addition to Box Three of Wonky Geometry but three or four new pictures that should be up on here soon!

Housekeeping & ‘completions’

PrimeRealEstate
Conversation: Prime Real Estate, Acrylic on canvas, 76 x 61.5 cm., 2014

Do you have as untidy a studio as mine?  I only ask because I’ve been trying for quite a while now (the very decent Climate Change weather helped…the studio can be perishing in mid-winter) to do some housekeeping.  Tucked away in back a bunch of smaller canvases that, for whatever reason, never got fully resolved.  Including these two from back in the day…well five years or so ago.  Around the time I was working on a bunch of big canvases (well biggish nowadays) that showed at the Carnival Of Monsters in Beeston, Nottingham in 2014.  These had started out as the continuation of the Conversation Pieces that in turn began back in the late noughties but altered tack during the painting process erasing the more biomorphic forms with a renewed interest in formalism (albeit of a cranky kind).  I say biggish because at 7 by 5 foot they would have been considered fairly tiddly back in the days I was a student at Birmingham where the legacy of John Walker was writ large – literally so!

2015-01-29 13.12.17
Carnival Of Monsters installation, Beeston, 2014

But alongside the bigger pieces I made these smaller panels, indeed I made several even smaller still.  Getting them out suggested they might have made the cut…excepting that they needed a small adjustment here and there which is exactly what they’ve just been given.  Are these new completed works to be dated 2014/19 or is that as pretentious as I’ve always thought it to be when seen about the place..?

CircusBoy
Conversation: You Seen Circus Boy?, Acrylic on canvas, 76 x 61.5 cm., 2014

British Painting in the 80’s – part 3

IMG_1403Moving into 1981 the real ‘biggie’ exhibition that captured everyone’s attention was the Royal Academy’s A New Spirit In Painting show that opened early in the year.  Looking back it was a really skewed oddball selection.  Heavy on the Germans (they put up a lot of the cash that enabled the then strapped RA to mount it), the Americans and British following on and with the rest of Europe behind them (other than Matta no one from the other continents featured) it was also conspicuous in the total absence of women painters (even in 1981 something of a shock) and artists of colour (not so surprising at that point, viz. Bowling RA in my first post on this subject). It has been suggested that in part the relative reductiveness of the selection with regard to abstraction reflected Nicholas Serota kicking back against the predilections of his predecessors at Tate, Sir Norman Reid, and the recently (1980 ) appointed Alan Bowness.  More likely it was more his tastes and those of co-curators Norman Rosenthal and Christos M. Joachimides, and a general desire to stir things up a bit.  It’s rather forgotten now but alongside the emergence of ‘new’ figuration (that dominated its reception and discussion) there were resolutely abstract or – perhaps more accurately – non-representational painters featured in the show.  Brice Marden and Robert Ryman represented the US in the reductive nature of painting, whilst Gotthard Graubner and Alan Charlton did a similar job for the Europeans.  Charlton continues to be one of our most single minded painters, confining himself to a range of greys, expressed in singular forms, often in groups and/or simple triangular forms and far better recognised in Europe than the UK though Annely Juda is currently running a retrospective show. Besides these the others were an odd bunch, late De Koonings, Frank Stella – moving into full on lurid construction mode and Howard Hodgkin, who seemed to be very much an ‘outlier’ – thoughtful and intelligible, considered and elegant pictures that seemed firmly within the ‘canon’ rather than outside it, obliquely or not.  Nonetheless what this extravaganza did, more than anything was usher in a period in which figuration, narratives and textuality re-established themselves as values, if not the ‘key’ values, in contemporary painting.

Not that the signs weren’t already out there if one knew where to look.  In my neck of the woods (the Midlands) there was the ambitious painter Trevor Halliday working out of Birmingham.  Of the same generation as John Walker (who also hailed from the city) Trevor had steadily established a reputation, much of it resting on his solo exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in 1974, where the large (typically 2 by 4 metres), ribbon like paintings of sophisticated handling and carefully modulated construction were quite unlike much else in UK abstraction at the time.  In the latter part of the 70’s his move out of Brum into the countryside to the south saw him virtually disappear from exhibiting for a few years after which he emerged with a new painting (as part of a selection of historical material at the invitation of the local Museum & Art Gallery), still large in size but with an expressive figuration and a classical theme to boot…viz. Diana & Actaeon, replete with  three of his hounds.

The change of tone that the ‘New Spirit’ ushered in would quickly transform the exhibition scene over the coming years but in the early part of the decade abstraction still had a prominent place in the UK scene.  In many cases it was the commercial gallery sector that led the way.  The Rowan Gallery had been around for quite a while (and had been substantially involved in bringing Bridget Riley to prominence as well as the New Generation sculptors). Another significant venue for abstraction was Annely Juda that, in one incarnation or another has been doing a vital job for abstraction since Annely Juda established herself in 1968 (having previously established the Molton Gallery and operated the Hamilton Galleries).     The pressures of recession saw these two combine for a period (82 to 85) as the Juda Rowan Gallery and it was there I saw Jeremy Moon‘s work in depth for the first time in the spring of 1982. 

IMG_1401 

Also having opened back in 1978 by the 80’s the Nicola Jacobs Gallery  was giving abstract painters opportunities, especially a clutch of shows in 1980/81 that gave good gallery exposure to a host of interesting abstract painters.  I saw work there by John McLean, Gary WraggPeter Rippon, Mali Morris, Paul Rosenbloom, the latter showing canvases diametrically different from the works of just a few years earlier.   Where previously he had been making vertiginous ‘allover’ monochrome canvases with heavy impasto these were replaced by delicate marks and dabs of colour in linen.  I’m also pretty sure I saw at least one canvas there by Patrick Jones, a consistently excellent and much underrated painter to this day, not least because his delicate stained canvases have been dreadfully out of fashion for donkey’s years despite being of exceptional quality.  At the Ian Birksted Gallery I first saw the marvellous paintings of William Henderson, still, as his 2015 Bankside show demonstrated, one of our most exciting and accomplished painters.

IMG_1406
Dappled Russets, Patrick Jones, 229.8×177 cm. acrylic on canvas, 1979

The plurality of public venues that were prepared to give artists space and time to experiment were relatively few but they were incredibly energetic.  Robin Klassnik’s Matts Gallery was one such and although the programme was very diverse it did give one painter, Ian McKeever, an opportunity to try out new directions…  I was blown away by his installation work ‘Black & White…or how to paint with a hammer’ that took place there.  There were also chance encounters, a casual visit to Gimpels in 1983 where Caryn Faure-Walker had selected Freya Purdue as one of the younger, less established artists for Stroke, Line & Figure and whose exuberant and delightful abstractions suggested paintings of quality might follow, a hunch that her appearance in Pacesetters V in Peterborough in 1985 confirmed.

Back in the public/artist led sector the vitality of the Acme Gallery that operated between 1976 and 1981, had given some important exposure to several ambitious abstract painters none less so than Gary Wragg whose 1979 exhibition had revealed a substantial talent whose enormous, wrought and expressive canvases teetered on the boundary between figuration and abstraction. One of its later shows, actually two shows, took place in 1980 where Eight Artists:Women:1980 was a declaration of the then, still, precarious and liminal position of women artists.  Amongst the painting were lively and accomplished shaped works by Sarah Greengrass, who sadly died early and Mikey Cuddihy who showed experimental, process driven works that presaged her move into installation and a more overt reference to feminist perspectives later in the decade.  The closure of Acme Gallery perhaps something of a harbinger of what was to come as the vogue for figuration took a hold.

part four on its way shortly…